Life: A River Of Many Currents
November 5, 2016 18 Comments
Ever since we landed in the same suburb, I have met B off and on in the vegetable market place outside the railway station.
A week ago, out of the blue, a cryptic mail from his daughter M carried the news of her mother’s unfortunate demise. When I had met B last, he did tell me his wife was unwell and M left her job months ago to take care of her mother. And I had then questioned the need and wisdom of M leaving her job that she had finally snagged after a lot of bench time, not thinking much of the poor lady’s sickness. The family, living on B’s pension, sorely needed the money the young lady was bringing in, I thought.
M did not reply to email-request for house address to call on them.
A bit of a background about B at this point:
B was a topper in the class, well mannered, darling of teachers, easily a good looker, a singer with a mellifluent voice, liked by all…
But life is a bitch. I’ve no idea till date when, where and how things went awry for him. We had gone on separate ways after the college.
I do know he retired as a staff in a nationalized bank not very far from where he started out eons ago. An anticlimax I had never imagined for an eagle of the blue skies that he was. He dabbled in dramatics, didn’t go far. When I met him years later – I moved into the same suburb where he lived – he was a very different man. Unkempt beard over sunken cheeks, hard of hearing, he sported strings of beads (rudraaksha) around his neck and many rakshai’s (lucky charms) tied on his wrist. He spoke of visions and favorable portents in his life with a religious fervor. On another track, he sounded excited about his ‘research’ on neem juice, experiments, results – he thought it to be a panacea for many ills. He expected Tata’s and the Ambani’s to line up anytime soon outside his residence for rights to his work. On the whole, he didn’t seem to be the garden variety we had matured into.
He was shunned by many as an incurable and a delusional bore. I did not, I’m glad, by thought or action. When we met I usually heard him out, managing now and then to get a word in on his parental duty to set and support his girl firmly on a course of education-employment-marriage just the way it is for other kids of her age; and gently easing myself off only if I had to.
Today I decided to visit the nearby bank – B had once told me he went there regularly to collect his monthly pension – hoping to get his address from them citing the unusual circumstances. I knew this was not impossible as our systems and staff continue, despite the scorn heaped on them, to be sensitive to genuine problems. When I went in, unstopped by absent security, I saw a man appearing to be a senior staff, generally moving about and a few ladies lazing before their terminals – the bank had closed its operations for the day. I went up to tell him the purpose of my visit: To know whereabouts of B. Showing no surprise at a stranger popping up suddenly before him after working hours , without further ado, he asked me to follow him to the end of a short hallway. And there I find who else!
After the initial surprise and happiness at this coincidence, I expressed my condolences over his loss and my anguish at not being around to stand by him.
What followed from B:
‘Her time had come, what could we do? It all started with a minor accident four months ago. She even recovered very well. But then…’
‘Don’t worry about me, take care of yourself. Don’t you forget your health issues…’
‘I’m quite ok financially. I get my pension which would get revised up very soon…M’s earnings till date are safely set aside for her marriage. In two to three years I’ll get her married off…My brother would help if needed. He is doing well…’
‘I came here to check on my loan application for a small amount. They told me it’s approved…’
‘M and I took her to the hospital at night by a three-wheeler. An ambulance, I was told, would cost Rs 9000…’
‘Don’t feel bad. I wasn’t alone. Lots of relatives and neighbors turned up for the funeral. On purpose I told my daughter to inform you only after it was all over. Given your health…’
‘Don’t trouble yourself coming home. These days both of us (B and M) are out almost all day. M’s running around to complete insurance formalities…’
‘Her people came in very late…’
What left me in dismay:
‘No priest would come to conduct the rites at the funeral. They wanted a full contract all the way for the following ten days of rituals at nothing less than Rs 80,000. Finally I cremated her without a priest, without the rites…’
‘My brother paid for the ambulance…’
‘It’s ok, I can feel her atma (soul) is with me all the time…In fact she told me at the end not to spend unduly over the ceremonies…My daughter and I gave away food to some poor…’
If you perceive contradictions in his observations above, it’s the truth trying to peek through despite his naïve attempt to paper over or reconcile certain unpleasant realities in his own mind.
In the fifteen minutes or so we were together, he was moved to tears for a moment just once as we hugged, as much bemoaning his loss, as over an old mates’s solicitiousness
When I left him, he. was not a broken man. He lives in peace and reconciliation in his own world very real in parts. I thought it is too cruel to ‘help’ him out of it. Nor I consider myself equal to the task.
Try as I might I’m unable to put down a vague sense of unfairness of it all continuing to nag me out of my peace.
But I know I’ll move on.